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Stories to save lives
If there is anything that will get teens' attention on the subject of drunk driving, it's a real-life story. Langley's Deidre Britton had one to tell Wednesday at South Whidbey High School.
"I am not here to judge anyone," said Britton as she started her talk in the school's auditorium. "And it doesn't make me feel better to tell you about the death of my son Jeremy, who was killed by a drunk driver. I do it because I don't want your parents to go through what I have been through and continue to live with every day."
In command of her audience's attention, Britton, holding a photo of Jeremy, tearfully recounted the events that led to her 15-year-old son's death. On the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago, Jeremy and a 14-year-old friend made the mistake of riding with a 23-year-old man who was drunk. While driving in Edmonds, the man missed a curve at a speed of 100 mph. Jeremy died in the crash; his friend was severely injured.
The driver survived and was found guilty of vehicular homicide. But Britton never saw Jeremy alive again after he said goodbye to her that day. It was something that could happen to anyone.
"I walk the halls here at the high school and see so many Jeremys," Britton said.
Britton was one of several speakers at the event, which was sponsored by the Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County (IDIPIC). To give it greater impact, the 45-minute program was presented as if the audience was made up of DUI offenders and minors convicted of possessing alcohol, not regular high school kids. DUI offenders are required by law to attend IDIPIC sessions.
Students viewed an 18-minute video depicting the lives of an offender and his victim's family, and listened to three speakers tell how their lives have been affected by drunk drivers.
It was those speakers who quieted the students and held their attention.
Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley, another speaker at the event, has lived with the pain caused by drinking and driving since 1959. On a day that year, his mother and brother were run down by a drunk driver while they were walking on a sidewalk in front of the Greenwood Liquor Store in Seattle. The driver was coming from a golf course where he had been drinking and was stopping off at the liquor store when his car jumped the curve.
Hawley's mother was crippled in the accident when the car crushed her pelvis and legs.
"It isn't just one incident," Hawley said. "The victim's family lives with it forever."
As a result of the accident, Hawley's mother couldn't take care of him and his brother for a time. They lived in foster homes for awhile.
"The scars will always be there," He said.
Another speaker at the event, Karen Lewis, the director of Probation Services of Island County, lost her son Michael in a DUI accident near Penn Cove. A sign, "Don't Drink and Drive," is posted in his memory at the curve.
"Every day he would call his dad just to say 'Hello and I love you.' He doesn't call any more. We will never be the same."
The message was clear to the students: Don't drink and drive and don't ride with anyone who has been drinking.
After hearing the speakers, South Whidbey senior Kathleen Helland said she understood the lesson.
"I don't drink but if I was ever in a situation where someone was I could call my parents and they would come and pick me up. I can talk to them about that kind of stuff."
Taking her own turn in front of the audience, JoAnn Hellmann, the coordinator for IDIPIC, said she wants parents who believe drinking to be a "rite of passage" to realize they may be inviting tragedy. She urged students to talk to their parents about drinking.
"Let them know that if you are being responsible to call for a ride then either you have had too much to drink or someone you're with has," she said. "They may not be happy, but you will be alive."
The IDIPIC presentation was timed to give students an education in drinking issues prior to this weekend's high school prom and this spring's graduation.